MANILA - Online news website Inquirer.net on Thursday said its removal of articles on the rape and death of '80s star Pepsi Paloma pending review over a senator's complaint is "not a question of press freedom."
Amid criticism and unrest among its staff, Inquirer.net maintained that the decision was in adherence to "journalism’s core values of accuracy, fairness, balance, integrity, and responsibility."
"We believe this is not a question of press freedom but the veracity of a story," Abel Ulanday, Inquirer.net editor-in-chief, said in a statement Thursday.
The news website is the online platform of leading broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer. It publishes commentary on its site under a section called "Fearless Views," echoing the newspaper's tagline "Balanced News, Fearless Views."
The articles, which Senate President Vicente Sotto III had requested removed last May, were no longer accessible as of Wednesday.
Clicking links to the news article “Tito Sotto denies whitewashing Pepsi Paloma rape case” and column pieces "The Rape of Pepsi Paloma" and "Was Pepsi Paloma murdered?" instead redirects readers to Inquirer's statement on the takedown.
In May, Sotto wrote the Inquirer to request the removal of the articles on claims that these had a "malicious imputation of a crime" against him.
The letter was sent just a few days after he took oath as Senate President.
Ulanday clarified that the Inquirer takes doubts and questions on the veracity of its articles "seriously" and asserted that this covers all of their stories.
"Rest assured that Inquirer.net remains to uphold what is true and fair without compromising our values," he said.
Inquirer's latest statement comes after it drew flak from netizens, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and even its own reporters.
US-based columnist Rodel Rodis, who wrote the column pieces, has yet to respond to Inquirer's June 23 request for him to "substantiate some of the allegations he made on his contributed pieces."
Inquirer also clarified that Rodis is not an employee and only contributes opinion pieces once a month.
Rodis first made public on social media Sotto's request to remove his articles last May and warned that if the Inquirer heeds the lawmaker's request, it would set a dangerous precedent.
"If the Inquirer agrees to his requests, a dangerous precedent will be set. Sotto is cyberbullying the Inquirer," Rodis said.
Last month, Inquirer.net said it would defer publishing Rodis' articles pending its inquiry.